While Colorado, Kent State, Penn State and SMU were all guaranteed two home games apiece as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic ahead of the semifinals December 22 at the Orleans Arena, the matchups for the semifinals had yet to be announced. That announcement came Friday, with SMU set to take on Kent State in the first game and Colorado playing Penn State in the nightcap.
The third place and championship games will be played the following night.
Of the four teams SMU will enter the 2015-16 season with the highest expectations, with head coach Larry Brown returning a good portion of his rotation from a season ago led by point guard Nic Moore and power forward Markus Kennedy. The Mustangs made their first NCAA tournament appearance in more than two decades last season, winning the American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles as well.
Colorado returns four starts from last season’s team, but they’ll only have three available due to the ruptured Achilles tendon suffered by forward Xavier Johnson. Forward/center Josh Scott will lead the way for Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes, with players such as Dominique Collier and Wesley Gordon needing to step forward.
Penn State will have to account for the loss of guard D.J. Newbill from last season’s team, and Kent State returns much of its front court from last season including All-MAC forward Jimmy Hall.
SMU, Colorado among eight teams in 2015 Las Vegas Classic
Thursday afternoon SMU announced that it would be one of the eight teams that will play in the 2015 Las Vegas Classic, with the final rounds of the event scheduled for December 22-23 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The Mustangs, who made their first NCAA tournament appearance in more than two decades and won the American Athletic Conference regular and postseason titles, return the majority of their rotation from last season led by point guard Nic Moore and forward Markus Kennedy.
The Mustangs will be joined by Colorado, Penn State, Kent State, Canisius, ULM, Nicholls State and Hampton. The Pirates, who knocked off Manhattan before falling to top overall seed Kentucky, are the only other team in the event to reach the NCAA tournament a season ago.
SMU will get two home games in Dallas before the final rounds of the event in Las Vegas, and the same goes for the three other selected “hosts.” Those three teams are Colorado, Penn State and Kent State, with Canisius, ULM, Nicholls State and Hampton serving as the visiting teams in those pre-Las Vegas matchups.
Matchups for those games, as well as the two brackets once the teams get to Las Vegas (SMU, Colorado, Penn State and Kent State form one bracket, with the other four teams in the other), will be announced later this offseason.
Mononucleosis to sideline Kent State sophomore forward indefinitely
In his first season of play at Kent State, redshirt sophomore forward Jimmy Hall has been a key contributor for Rob Senderoff’s Golden Flashes. Averaging 15.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, Hall leads the team in both statistical categories.
Unfortunately for Kent State they’re going to be without Hall for a while, as it was announced Wednesday that he’s been diagnosed with mononucleosis. According to the school he’ll sit out for at least the next week before he’s reevaluated by doctors.
“Jimmy was playing at a (MAC) Player of the Year level, and we are obviously very disappointed for him that he is going to miss some games,” said KSU coach Rob Senderoff. “Right now the priority is Jimmy getting healthy and being back to help us as soon as possible. In the meantime, we are missing 30 minutes per night. All of our guys in the front court will be called on to step up.”
Without Hall, players such as Khaliq Spicer (5.8 rpg) and Chris Ortiz (3.8 rpg) will be asked to step up in the front court. Kent State, which saw its six-game win streak come to an end Friday night at Buffalo, is in the midst of a five-game stretch in which four of the games will be played on the road.
The Golden Flashes visit Western Michigan Wednesday night and will host Miami University Saturday night before playing road games at Akron and Toledo. Kent State and Akron are currently tied atop the MAC East standings at 6-2, with Buffalo and Bowling Green a game back at 5-3.
Pregame Shootaround: No. 6 Arizona looks to avenge lone conference loss, ‘Ivy League Friday’
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Harvard at Princeton, 6:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
This is one of two games in the Ivy League matching an undefeated team (in conference play) with one that already has suffered a loss, with Tommy Amaker’s Crimson looking to rebound from their home loss to Dartmouth last weekend. And while Wesley Saunders has been Harvard’s leading scorer, the key to slowing down the Crimson is to keep point guard Siyani Chambers in check.
Dartmouth was able to do that, as Chambers scored 13 points but did so on 3-for-11 shooting to go along with three assists and two turnovers. Princeton, which beat Penn in its league opener, is led by forwards Spencer Weisz and Hans Brase. And given the influence that Chambers has on the action for Harvard, this sets up to be quite the opportunity for Princeton freshman guard Amir Bell as well.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Oregon State at. No. 6 Arizona, 10:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
Sean Miller’s Wildcats have just one conference loss thus far, a 58-56 defeat suffered in Corvallis just under three weeks ago. Since then Arizona’s won five straight, with four of the five wins being by double digits. Stanley Johnson’s begun to assert himself as the offensive weapon many expected him to be upon his arrival on campus, and point guard T.J. McConnell continues to lead the way for a group that has shot 49 percent or better from the field in four of their last five games. Oregon State was able to slow down the tempo and use a matchup zone to fluster the Wildcats in their first meeting, but they’re going to need that and an exceptional performance from junior guard Gary Payton II to pull off another upset.
WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?: Buffalo (-6) vs. Kent State, 10:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
The oddsmakers have the Bulls listed as a six-point favorite for their home game against Kent State, which is sitting atop the MAC East standings with a 6-1 record. But Rob Senderoff’s team already has wins over Ohio and Central Michigan (both at home), and they’re currently on a six-game win streak. This is a game Bobby Hurley’s Bulls need if they’re to factor into the division race, as they’re already two games out of first, and they’ll need to slow down Kent State’s Jimmy Hall in order to get the win. Hall scored 32 in a win over Ball State last weekend, and he followed that up with 15 points and 15 rebounds in a win over Central Michigan Tuesday night. Buffalo will counter with Jarvis Moss, who’s averaging 18.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
Another Ivy League matchup to keep an eye on is Yale’s trip to New York City to take on Columbia (8:00 p.m.). The Bulldogs are 2-0 in league play, and the Lions are looking to rebound from their home loss to Cornell.
Oregon looks to bounce back from a highly disappointing effort in their 90-56 loss at Arizona on Wednesday by beating Arizona State in Tempe (8:00 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). The Sun Devils took care of Oregon State Wednesday night, with Shaquielle McKissic leading a balanced effort with 17 points.
Friday is a key night in the MAAC, with Siena’s trip south to take on Manhattan (7:00 p.m., ESPN3) being one of the games on the slate. If the Saints are to win they’ll have to buckle down defensively, as Jimmy Patsos’ team is ninth in the MAAC in field goal percentage defense (45.5%) and 11th in three-point percentage defense (40.0%) in conference games.
Monmouth’s just a game behind Iona in the loss column at 7-3, and they’ll need a win at Fairfield (8:00 p.m., ESPNU) to make sure that remains the case. Sophomore guard Justin Robinson is averaging 16.4 points per game in conference play for the Hawks. Fairfield is led by Marcus Gilbert, who’s scoring just over 17 per game.
Another Ivy League team to keep an eye on is Cornell, which begins a stretch of four straight home games tonight against Brown (7:00 p.m.). Senior forward Shonn Miller (16.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg) has played very well for the Big Red, and he accounted for 18 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in their 57-47 win at Columbia last weekend.
Court upholds ruling that Kent State should receive $1.2 million buyout from former head coach
When Geno Ford made the move from Kent State to Bradley in 2011, he did so amidst controversy. The school sued Ford for the $1.2 million it was owed as part of the agreement, with the dollar amount representing the four years’ (at $300,000 per) salary that remained on the contract Ford and Kent State agreed to, alleging that there had been a breach of contract.
That allegation came as a result of Kent State believing that Ford entered discussions with Bradley despite not being granted permission to do so. Kent State would win that lawsuit, with a court ruling that Ford did have to pay the $1.2 million. And on Wednesday it was reported by the Associated Pressthat the decision was upheld, meaning that Ford remains on the hook for the $1.2 million.
While buyouts tend to be handled without much fuss when a coach moves from one job to another, this isn’t the first time a school has taken a departing coach to court in order to receive the buyout owed to them. Marist sued Matt Brady in 2009 after he made the move to James Madison in 2008, one year after signing a four-year contract extension with the MAAC school.
Marist alleged “a breach of contract that involved Brady supposedly recruiting former Marist players” according to USA Today. Like Kent State in its suit against Ford, the courts ruled in favor of Marist in 2010.
The MAC has become known for parity the last few years, but last season saw the emergence of the league’s West Division after many years of dormant activity.
Before last season’s MAC conference tournament title game between Toledo and Western Michigan, the West hadn’t had a team in the league championship game since 2006 as the East Division and teams like Akron and Ohio usually dominated the league’s NCAA Tournament bid.
That changed dramatically in 2013-14 as Toledo won a school-record 27 games but ultimately fell short of making the tournament by falling to Western Michigan.
The Rockets will be favored to make the Big Dance this season, however, as they return four starters, including two of the league’s top-1o scorers in senior point guard Julius Brown and fellow senior Justin Drummond. If Toledo can improve its shaky defense and get more stops on the defensive end, they could be one of the most dangerous mid-major programs in the country this season because they can really put up points in a hurry.
Western Michigan will still have plenty of gas in the tank after only losing All-MAC center Shayne Whittington from a NCAA Tournament team. Senior guard David Brown was granted a sixth year of eligibility and is the league’s returning leading scorer and he’s joined by senior point guard Austin Richie, junior power forward Connar Tava and sophomore forward Tucker Haymond.
Representing the East Division will be Akron, who has reached 20 wins a remarkable nine consecutive years under head coach Keith Dambrot. If league history is any indication, the Zips might be the favorite to make the NCAA Tournament by virtue of always making it during odd-numbered years. Akron reached the NCAA Tournament in 2009, 2011 and 2013, with breaks one-year in between just like this season. Past history aside, Akron returns all-league forward Demetrius “Tree” Treadwell, who is one of the most productive players in the league and the team will have plenty of talent to compete in 2014-15.
With new head coach Saul Phillips at the helm, Ohio should be competitive this season as well. Senior forward Maurice Ndour is a force on the interior and the senior backcourt of Stevie Taylor and Javarez Willis should be steady for the Bobcats.
From there, the MAC is filled with question marks.
Bowling Green has a new head coach in former Wichita State assistant Chris Jans and he inherits a roster filled with experienced players. All-MAC selection Richaun Holmes returns at forward and senior guards Anthony Henderson and Jehvon Clarke can both score as well while junior forward Spencer Parker also averaged double-figures last season.
One of the surprise teams this season in the MAC could be Northern Illinois, as the Huskies improved by 10 wins last season and return plenty of talent. Head coach Mark Montgomery returns plenty of players with starting experience, including senior center Jordan Threloff, forwards Darrell Bowie and Travon Baker and guard Aaric Armstead, but he also gains Kansas State transfer Michael Orris at point guard, Purdue transfer Anthony Johnson at shooting guard and sophomore guard Dontel Highsmith returns from a ACL injury that robbed him of a promising start last season.
Kent State returns its top three scorers in guards Kris Brewer, Derek Jackson and Devareaux Manley, but the Golden Flashes were inconsistent last season and relied too much on perimeter jumpers. Buffalo begins life after MAC Player of the Year Javon McCrea and must replace his stellar production in the front court this season. Eastern Michigan also returns its top three scorers from a 22-win season, but they’ll have to make it over the hump of beating the top teams in the league.
PRESEASON MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Julius Brown, Toledo
The senior point guard known as “Juice” returns to a 27-win team after averaging 14.9 points and a MAC-leading 6 assists per game last season. The 5-foot-10 Brown is the engine that makes the Rockets’ potent offense run and his scoring average increased to 16.2 points per game during MAC play last season.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-MAC TEAM:
David Brown, Western Michigan – The 6-foot-4 senior was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after a career filled with medical issues and the Broncos will be pleased because he’s the MAC’s returning leading scorer at 19.1 points per game.
Richaun Holmes, Bowling Green – One of the MAC’s best athletes, the 6-foot-8 Holmes averaged 13.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a junior while also leading the conference in blocks.
Demetrius Treadwell, Akron – The 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward is coming off of a first-team All-MAC appearance after averaging 15.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last year.
Maurice Ndour, Ohio – The 6-foot-9 senior with a 7-foot-5 wingspan put that to good use last season, averaging 13.8 points, 7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, good for top-10 in all three categories in the conference.